Cinema History from the Cold War!

-And A Voice Shall Be Heard

General Electric
The March of Time
1951

In 1951, General Electric teamed with the dramatized news program March of Time to pioneer a new marketing strategy for their line of two-way radios.  The result of this cooperation, And a Voice Shall Be Heard, operates primarily as an elongated commercial for communication devices, relaying civil defense advice in the process.  Their partnership also allowed General Electric to use famed March of Time radio personality Westbrook Van Voorhis as a stern narrator.  Set in Syracuse, New York, the film follows city officials, citizens, and rescue personnel while examining the threat of an atomic attack on one of  New York state's most probable targets.  Curiously, no direct mention is ever made of the atomic bomb, rather, the Syracuse civil defense committee repeatedly describes the value of two-way communication in "the gravest of all city emergencies".

                         

From the opening scenes, And a Voice Shall Be Heard introduces a number of characters who highlight the value of modern communications.  The first, college student Chris Norton, is a recreational H.A.M. operator, speaking with amateurs all across the globe.  Equally reliant on wireless technology are the construction contractors of the Crevek Company.  In addition to summoning more equipment and materials via radio, the foreman can also call an ambulance after his road crew witnesses a horrendous traffic accident.  In larger emergencies, both the fire chief and local utility crews can effectively coordinate their actions using car radios while a hard boiled reporter, complete with half-cocked fedora, can relay the story to his editors in real time.  To drive home the point that clear communication keeps this metropolitan system running, Van Voorhis’ narration is accompanied by vibrant scenes of city life.  Taxis with radios, mile after mile of telephone lines, and a technology laden airport combine to ensure a smooth flow of information for both business and recreation.  In spite of these clear promotions of General Electric products, the company maintained the film was purely for aiding cities with civil defense preparation, heralding it as an "outstanding public service release".

              

Civil defense officials in Syracuse are quick to utilize two-way radios as well.  During a meeting of the local emergency council, director Colonel Cavanaugh is eager to tour all of the communication facilities before speaking to the community at large.  During the community meeting, Colonel Cavanaugh addresses a diverse crowd of citizens, fielding questions and quelling fears about the destructive power of nuclear energy.  At the conclusion, Cavanaugh's assistant takes the dais to describe what a hypothetical atomic attack on Syracuse would look like.  “Now let’s visualize such an attack on Syracuse.  Our factories are humming as usual.  Or power and communication lines are still functioning to make our lives easy and efficient.  Clinton Square is bright and serene in the sunshine.  Downtown is a busy day, stores and streets are crowded.  A typical day in the lives of millions of Americans, to whom war has always seemed so far away.  And then…!”

                             

Following a terrifically sharp trumpet blast in the musical score, smoky remains and scattered survivors are all that remain on the horizon in Syracuse.  Inside the communications center, however, volunteer Chris Norton works the equipment, allowing Cavanaugh to direct the aforementioned citizens via their portable radios.  Now sporting civil defense insignia and tin helmets, they offer their services to search and rescue efforts.  Featured first is the Crevek Company, using their heavy equipment to clear debris, working in tandem with radiological monitors to avoid dangerous areas.  Relaying the data collected by the radiological squad is the reporter, given access to the area with his press credentials.  With communications infrastructure rapidly restored, additional help is able to be called in from Buffalo, apparently unscathed in the attack.  To finish on a dramatic note, a number of school children are trapped in a burning building, but a well coordinated plan by the fire, police, and medical units leads to a successful rescue.  Returning to reality, Cavanaugh's assistant closes with optimism.  “The job of coordinating this city’s civil defense communications may last for days, possibly even a week.  We never really know what the job will be until we’re actually faced with it, we may never have to face it at all.  But I think we can say that as far as communications is concerned, Syracuse is ready for any emergency.”

Upon release, And a Voice Shall Be Heard proved to be popular with civic and industrial audiences alike.  By 1952, General Electric proclaimed that over ten million people had viewed the film, and in June of that year it was nominated for a "Best Civil Defense Film" award but lost to The Waking Point, a British production highlighting the importance of rescue squads.  In promotions, GE explained the film was created as part of the Communications Advisory Service.  A nationwide organization of electrical engineers led by GE, the Advisory Service offered consultation sessions to communities and business for both peacetime and defense activities.  Although the government did not play a part in the film's creation, the notion of a private business taking such an initiative to prepare itself and citizens for an enemy attack fit nicely into the hands-off approach to civil defense that dominated federal policy throughout the 1950's.